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First Lady Addresses Obesity In City Heights Speech

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Aired 4/16/10

Michelle Obama visited an urban garden in San Diego yesterday as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity. The first lady is head of the health-oriented Let's Move campaign. And her visit coincided with some other initiatives that are meant to make local neighborhoods more healthy.

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Above: Why did First Lady Michelle Obama visit San Diego this week? We speak to reporter Tom Fudge about the First Lady's plan to end childhood obesity.

— Michelle Obama visited an urban garden in San Diego yesterday as part of her campaign to end childhood obesity. The first lady is head of the health-oriented Let's Move campaign. Her visit coincided with some other initiatives that are meant to make local neighborhoods more healthy.

A clump of reporters and an enthusiastic crowd of supporters waited for Michelle Obama's speech as the first lady took a tour of the New Roots Community Garden in City Heights. Before she took the podium, Robert Ross, the president of the California Endowment, captured the mood of the event as he referred to the fight to end obesity.

"And having the first lady, this rock star, joining us by initiating her national Let's Move campaign," he said, "we've got rocket fuel in the engine baby! We can't lose now."

Obama followed Ross by making the point that environment is a crucial factor in the health of Americans.

"Healthy children come from a place. A place that is a healthy community. If a family lives in a neighborhood with a grocery store nearby, it is simple. They're more likely to put fresh fruits and vegetables on the table because they'll have access to it," said Obama.

Michelle Obama's speech about making better food available in low-income neighborhoods was set against the backdrop of the New Roots community garden. The garden is a two-acre project of San Diego International Rescue Committee. Residents of City Heights use the land to grow their own fruits and vegetables.

Obama said health problems in places like City Heights are also due to environments where kids don't feel safe walking to school. She said San Diego county has been a model for taking control of neighborhoods and making them better places to get out and be active.

"Like the students from Chula Vista who realized that the park that they played in growing up was now too dangerous for other kids to use. So what did they do? They worked with local leaders to fix up that park, and now it's cleaner and busier than ever before," said Obama.

Obama's appearance came as the California Endowment was beginning its Building Healthy Communities campaign. They have targeted 14 low-income California communities, including City Heights. Robert Ross said the endowment will spend $100 million a year on things like improvements to infrastructure, school-lunch programs and community gardens. Ross said statistic show where you live has a strong and measurable effect on health.

"And so if you live in City Heights I can tell you that you will probably live 12 to 14 years a shorter lifespan than someone from La Jolla," he said.

San Diego county also has received a $16 million grant from the Centers for Disease Control to make communities healthier. Adrienne Yancey, with the County Health Department, says plans to use the money are still in development. But she expects the county will work with land-use and transportation planners to find ways to make residents more active.

"Under nutrition, one of the things we'll try to do is increase the consumption of healthy and locally grown foods," said Yancey. "Increase the number of farmers markets that are participating with our nutrition assistance program, formally known as food stamps."

But when all of the millions of dollars are spent, the question remains whether families really will become healthier. Directors of the California endowment say they will measure results and they expect to see results, including lower obesity rates. Bilal Muya, one of the farmers at the New Root Garden in City Heights said for now he's happy to be growing his own vegetables.

"So I don't have to worry to go to a store, look for some aisle or stuff like that. They are fresh. I pick them and take them home," he said.

The money and attention being paid to San Diego neighborhoods comes at a time when an estimated 30 percent of California kids are overweight or obese.

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